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Book I
Note I

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

2nd edition
Oxford University Press
London, 1892

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book I
Chapter 17

Book 1 (continued)

Vol. I
Chapter XVI

The Fall of Stilicho


Sources: —

Our chief authorities for the Italian part of our story are Zosimus and Orosius. The latter is aglow with the fierceness of religious hatred. The former has apparently two or three different accounts before him, and his attempts to piece them together produce an incoherent story, the chief actors in which behave with childish inconsistency.

For that part of the history which relates to events in Gaul our authorities are, in addition to the two mentioned above, Prosper, Sozomen, and Olympiodorus. The last authority will be more fully described in a future chapter. It is sufficient here to state that he was a contemporary, that we have only fragments of his work, but that it was probably accessible in its complete state, to Zosimus and Sozomen, and has supplied them with some of their most valuable material.

Guides: —

For all that belongs to the history of the usurper Constantine, I am now able to refer to a very complete and exhaustive monograph by Professor Freeman, in the English Historical Review (I.53‑86). The article, entitled 'The Tyrants of Britain, Gaul and Spain,' contains doubtless the final verdict of historical science on the transactions of an obscure and difficult period, and I accept with confidence almost all the conclusions contained in it, referring my readers to the article itself for a detailed statement of the argument.

 p738  Critical state of the Empire. The invasion of Alaric and Radagaisus had been repelled, and it might seem that the throne of Honorius was established on a more secure basis than ever. In fact, however, the events of 406 and the years immediately following it, brought not only the throne of Honorius but the whole Roman Empire nearer to irretrievable ruin than it had ever been brought before. By three diseases, each one of which seemed as if it might prove fatal, was that Empire at once assailed, (1) by barbarian invasion, (2) by military mutiny, and (3) by discord between the Eastern and Western realms.

Irruption of barbarians into Gaul. 1. The desperate necessities of the defence of Italy had compelled Stilicho, as we have seen, to leave the long Rhine frontier of Gaul almost bare of troops. Claudian dared to boast of this.

'Nor Britain only sends to aid our war;

They who the yellow-haired Sicambrian bar,

They who the Cattian, the Cherusker tame,

Hither have brought the glory of their name:

And fear alone now guards the Rhenish shore

Paced by the Roman sentinel no more.

Will future days believe it? She the bold

Impetuous Germany whom Caesars old,

With all their legions scarcely could restrain,

Now in her docile mouth receives the rein.

Held by the hand of Stilicho, nor dares

To tempt the rampart which he proudly bares

Of its accustomed garrison, nor dreams

To cross with plundering bands the guardless streams.'1

But Claudian boasted too soon: and it may perhaps have been foolish vapourings such as these, attributing to plan and policy on Stilicho's part what was really  p739 due to dire need, which suggested to the great statesman's enemies the hateful, and in my belief, utterly groundless accusation that he actually invited the barbarians across the Rhine, in order, in some mysterious and inexplicable way to facilitate his schemes for obtaining the diadem for the young Eucherius. But whatever the cause, the result is manifest. On the last day of 406 a great host of barbarians, consisting chiefly of three races, the Vandals, the Suevi, and the Alans (the first two Teutonic, the third probably of what we call 'Tartar' or Turanian origin), crossed the Rhine, and in one wide, desolating stream, poured over the fruitful province of Gaul, which from this time forward was never free from barbarian occupation.2

Disaffection in the army of Britain. 2. We shall have occasion hereafter to trace the fortunes of some of the barbarous tribes who thus poured into Gaul. At present we are more concerned with the indirect consequences of the invasion, the military mutiny and civil war which resulted from it. There had no doubt been for years a growing dissatisfaction with the rulers of the Empire. Reports of the  p740 utter imbecility of Honorius had doubtless gone abroad, and the avarice and ambition of Stilicho would be freely discussed by the many disappointed competitors through whom he had shouldered his way to supreme dominion. Under the Imperial system of Rome as under the imitations of it which have been seen in later days, the usual penalty of ill‑success was dethronement. Where the liegemen of a Constitutional King change a Ministry, the subjects of an elected Emperor upset a dynasty: and we who have heard the shout of déchéance ring through the streets of Paris on the morrow of the surrender of Sedan, can understand what angry criticisms, what schemes of mutiny and revolt were heard in Colonia and camp when it became manifest that the Empire was going to pieces under the rule of the incapable Honorius.

It was of course in Britain, that 'province fertile in usurpers,'3 that the criticisms were the loudest and the temper of the troops most mutinous. It was hard enough that the soldier should be doing outpost duty for Rome amid biting winds and sweeping snow-storms, on desolate moorlands a thousand miles from the nearest vineyard, without the added bitterness of knowing that his own Gaulish home was being trampled into ruin by Vandal freebooters, and all through the idiocy of the Augustus or the supposed treachery of that other Vandal who stood nearest to his throne.4

 p741  Elevation of Constantine. Under the influence of these emotions the soldiers who still remained in Britain broke out into open mutiny, and, to legalize their position, acclaimed a certain Marcus as Emperor. But Marcus failed to lead them as they desired. He was slain, and his successor Gratian (a native of Britain) after a reign of four months, shared the same fate. Then the choice of the captious king-makers fell on a private soldier named Constantine, a man apparently of lower social position than either of his two predecessors. But he had a fortunate name, for a Constantine acclaimed a hundred years before in the same tumultuous fashion had won the Empire of the world; and in truth this later Constantine, though he seems to have had little but his name to recommend him, did make himself for a time lord of all that was left to Rome of the great Prefecture of the Gauls, and did wring from the reluctant Honorius a recognition as a legitimate Augustus.

Constantine in Gaul. Very difficult and obscure is the story of the four years' reign of Constantine, a story which the reader turns from with impatience, because he knows that it leads to nothing, and because it distracts his attention from the far more important events which were passing at the same time in Italy. The soldier-Emperor crossed to Boulogne in the year 407, taking with him the last remnants of the Roman army of Britain. Whether he fought the barbarian invaders of Gaul is doubtful. It seems more probable that he made some kind of compact  p742 with them, leaving them free to ravage the west and centre of Gaul while he marched down the valley of the Rhone, adding city after city to his dominion, and gradually getting the whole machine of Imperial administration into his hands.

Sarus the Goth sent to oppose him. When tidings of the British soldiers' usurpation reached the Court of Ravenna, an army was sent into Gaul to check his further progress. It is characteristic of the strange state of confusion into which the Empire was falling, that the general who commanded the army thus sent forth to vindicate the cause of Imperial legitimacy was the Gothic captain Sarus. Sarus seems to have fought well and bravely, though with less regard for his plighted word than a Teuton chieftain should have shown. Of the two masters of the soldiery whom the upstart Emperor deputed in lordly fashion to fight his battles for him, one (Justinian) was defeated and killed in fair encounter, the other, a man evidently of barbarian descent, named Neviogast, was lured by pretext of friendship into the Imperial camp and treacherously slain in violation of the plighted oath of Sarus. Constantine himself was besieged in the strong city of Valentia (Valence) by the Rhone, and it seemed as if his reign would end while his purple robe was still new. But the activity and warlike skill of his two new magistri, Edovich the Frank and Gerontius the Briton, quickly changed the face of affairs, and compelled Sarus to raise the siege of Valentia and to beat a precipitate retreat. The Bagaudae, a band of armed peasants whom we shall meet with again fifty years later, and who waged a war of centuries against the Roman government in Gaul, held the passes of the Alps, and it was only by abandoning to them all his  p743 hardly won booty that Sarus could buy permission to return crest-fallen and empty-handed to his Imperial employer.

Constans, son of Constantine, in Spain. Thus the fortunes of the so strangely lifted up British soldier went on prospering. He sent his son Constans (a son who had turned monk but was drawn forth from the monastery by the splendour of his father's fortunes) into Spain in order to win that province, which generally followed the fortunes of its Gaulish neighbour. In Spain, however, pride in the Theodosian line and loyalty to the Theodosian house were still powerful sentiments. Two brothers, kinsmen of Honorius, named Didymus and Verenianus, upheld for a time the banner of their family in the Lusitanian plains and on the passes of the Pyrenees. But their army, hastily raised from among the slaves and peasants on their estates, could not permanently make head against the trained soldiers led by Constans, who by a curious paradox of nomenclature were chiefly composed of some of those Auxilia Palatina who bore the name of Honorians.5  p744 Didymus and Verenianus were defeated, and with their wives were taken prisoners and sent to the Court of Constantine, which was now held at Arles, in a certain sense the capital of Gaul. Constantine is recognised by Honorius as a colleague. The Spanish campaign seems to have been ended in 408, 409 and in the following year an embassy was sent by Constantine to Honorius, claiming recognition as a lawful partner in the Empire, while throwing all the blame of Constantine's unlicensed assumption of the purple on the rude importunity of the soldiery. Honorius who, as we shall hereafter see, was at this time sore pressed by Alaric, and who trembled for the safety of his Spanish kinfolk, captives as he supposed in the hands of Constantine, consented, and sent, himself, the coveted purple robe to the fortunate soldier in his palace at Arles. But the concession came too late to save the lives of Didymus and  p745 Verenianus, who had been already put to death by their ungenerous conqueror.

Here for a little while we must leave the story of the British usurper, which has already brought us down to a somewhat later date than we have reached in the affairs of Italy. But it is important to remember that in the three years which we have thus rapidly surveyed, the whole noble Prefecture of the Gauls, that is to say, the three fair countries of Britain, Gaul and Spain have been lost to Honorius. We shall hereafter see what fragments of them, if any, might be yet recovered for the Empire.

Estrangement between Arcadius and Honorius. 3. Lastly, as if all these calamities were not enough, there was added to them the fact of estrangement and the danger of actual war between the Eastern and Western portions of the Empire. We have already seen how the successive ministers of Arcadius resented the claim of Stilicho to exercise some kind of moral guardianship over both the sons of Theodosius. Now, from 404 onwards, the events connected with the persecution of Chrysostom by the Court party had deepened and widened the gulf between the two governments. Pope Innocent, when appealed to by the oppressed prelate, had warmly espoused his cause, and had called upon Theophilus of Alexandria to cease from his uncanonical intermeddling with the affairs of an alien see. Honorius, acting probably under the Pope's advice, had addressed a letter to Arcadius full of regret at the lamentable events which common rumour informed him had taken place in his brother's dominions — the burning of the Cathedral, the harsh measures adopted towards a father of the Church. The reflections as to the impropriety of Caesar's interference with the affairs of the  p746 Church of God were orthodox and judicious, and might perhaps have been listened to with patience had the great Ambrose still been alive to utter them: but when put forward by a younger brother, and such a younger brother as Honorius, they goaded even the lethargic Arcadius to fury. The ecclesiastics sent by Honorius to urge upon his brother the assembling of a General Council were treated with a discourtesy which the law of nations would have condemned had they been the ambassadors of a hostile power. They were arrested at Athens, despatched under military escort to Constantinople, forbidden to land there, and sent off to a fortress in Thrace. Here they were shamefully handled, and their letters were taken from them by force. At length after four months' absence they were contemptuously dismissed on their homeward journey, without having once seen the Emperor of the East, or had any opportunity to deliver their message.

Stilicho's plans for revenge. 407 This deadly insult caused Stilicho to form on behalf of his son-in‑law the most extraordinary schemes of revenge and ambition. Alaric, so lately the enemy of Italy, was now to be made her champion. He and Stilicho were to enter on a joint campaign for the conquest of the whole of Eastern Illyricum, that is, presumably, all of what is now called the Balkan Peninsula, except Moesia and Thrace; and Arcadius was to be left with only the 'Orient' for his share of the Empire. Stilicho was actually on the point of starting from Ravenna on this strange expedition when he was stopped by the receipt of two pieces of news: one false, that Alaric had died in Illyricum; the other true and of necessity profoundly modifying his plans, the victorious march through Gaul of the usurper Constantine.

 p747  Another measure taken by Stilicho at this time shows how thunderous was the atmosphere in the Council-chamber at Ravenna. The ports and harbours of Italy were watched to prevent any one, even apparently a peaceful merchant, from landing if he came from the Eastern realm.6

Death of Arcadius. But civil war between East and West was not to be added to the other miseries of the time. On the 1st of May, 408, Arcadius died, and that death, though it perhaps saved the Eastern Empire from ruin, brought about the fall of Stilicho, and by no remote chain of causes and effects, the sieges and sack of Rome. After the death had happened, but before certain tidings of it had reached the capital, Alaric, who had actually entered Epirus (but whether as invader or ally neither he himself nor any contemporary statesman could perhaps have accurately explained), marched northwards to Aemona (Laybach),º passed without difficulty the unguarded defiles of the Julian Alps, and appearing on the north-eastern horizon of Italy, demanded pay for his unfinished enterprise. The Emperor, the Senate, Stilicho, assembled at Rome to consider what answer should be given to the ambassadors of the Visigoth. Debate in the Senate on Alaric's claims. Many senators advised war rather than peace purchased by such disgraceful concessions. Stilicho's voice, however,  p748 was all for an amicable settlement. 'It was true that Alaric had spent many months in Epirus. It was for the interest of the Emperor that he had gone thither; here was the letter of Honorius which had forbidden the enterprise, a letter which he must confess he attributed to the unwise interference of his own wife Serena, unwilling as she was to see her two adopted brethren at war with each other.' Partly persuaded that Alaric really deserved some reparation for the loss he had sustained through the fluctuation of the Imperial counsels, but more unwilling to oppose a courageous 'no' to the advice of the all‑powerful Minister, the Senate acquiesced in his decision, and ordered payment of 4000 pounds of gold (about £160,000 stelring) to the ambassadors of Alaric. The Senator Lampridius, a man of high birth and character, exclaimed indignantly, 'Non est ista pax sed pactio servitutis' (That is no peace, but a mere selling of yourselves into slavery). But, fearing the punishment of his too free speech, as soon as the Senate left the Imperial palace, he took refuge in a neighbouring Christian church.

The position of Stilicho was at this time one of great apparent stability. Though his daughter, the Empress Maria, was dead, her place had been supplied by another daughter, Thermantia, who, it might be reasonably supposed, could secure her feeble husband's loyalty to her father. With Alaric for his friend, with Arcadius, who had been drilled by his ministers into hostility, dead, it might have seemed that there was no quarter from whence danger could menace the supremacy of the great minister.

Insecurity of Stilicho's position. This security, however, was but in appearance. Honorius was beginning to chafe under the yoke;  p749 perhaps even his brother's death made Stilicho seem less necessary to his safety. An adverse influence too of which the minister suspected nothing, had sprung up in the Imperial court. Intrigues of Olympius. Olympius, a native of some town on the Euxine shore, had ascended, through Stilicho's patronage, to a high position in the household. This man, who, according to Zosimus, 'under the appearance of Christian piety concealed a great deal of rascality,' was now whispering away the character of his benefactor. With him seem to have co‑operated the clergy, who sincerely disapproved of Honorius' marriage with the sister of the late Empress, and who also had imbibed a strange notion that Eucherius, the son of Stilicho, was a Pagan at heart, and meditated, should he one day succeed to power, the restoration of the ancient idolatry.

Pagans as well as Christians disliked the family of Stilicho. Strange to say, the Pagans also had their reasons for disliking the same all‑powerful family. They still muttered to one another an old story of the days of the first Theodosius. During one of his visits to Rome (Zosimus says immediately after the defeat of Eugenius) he turned out the priests from many of the temples. Serena, with haughty contempt for the votaries of the fallen faith, visited, in curious scorn, the temple of Rhea, the Great Mother of the Gods. Seeing a costly necklace hung around the neck of the goddess, she took it off and placed it on her own. An old woman, one of the surviving Vestal Virgins, saw and loudly blamed the sacrilegious deed. Serena bade her attendants remove the crone, who, while she was being hurried down the steps of the temple, loudly prayed the all manner of misfortunes might light upon the head of the despiser of the goddess, on her husband,  p750 and her children. And in many a night vision, so said the Pagans, from that day forward, Serena had warning of some inevitable doom. Nor was Stilicho free from like blame, for he had stripped off the massive gold plates from the doors of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus; and he, too, had had his warning, for the workmen to whom the task was allotted had found engraven on the inner side of the plates, 'Misero regi servantur' (Reserved for an unhappy ruler).

Soreness of the Roman legionaries. Thus did the two religions, the old and the new, unite in muttered discontent against the great captain. The people also, wounded and perplexed by the strange scene in the Senate, and the consequent payment to Alaric, had perhaps lost some of their former confidence in the magic of his name. On the other hand, the army, whose demoralised condition was probably the real cause of his policy of non‑resistance, and whom his stern rule had alone made in any measure efficacious against the barbarian, were some of them growing restive under the severity of his discipline. Partly too we can discern the workings of a spirit of jealousy among the Roman legionaries against the Teutonic comrades by whom they found themselves surrounded, and often outstripped in the race for promotion. Stilicho's own Vandal origin would naturally exacerbate this feeling, and would render unpardonable in him preferences which might have been safely manifested by Theodosius. At Ticinum (the modern Pavia) the troops were thoroughly alienated from Stilicho; and at Bologna, whither Honorius had journeyed from Ravenna, the soldiers broke out into open mutiny. Stilicho, being summoned by the Emperor, suppressed the revolt, and either threatened or actually inflicted  p751 the dread punishment of decimation, the ultima ratio of a Roman general.

Warring ambitions of Constantine, Alaric, and Stilicho. In the midst of this quicksand of suspicions and disaffections three facts were clear and solid. The usurper Constantine was steadily advancing through Gaul towards the capital. Alaric, though he had received the 400 golden librae, hovered still near the frontier, and was evidently wearying for a fight with some enemy. Arcadius was dead: the guardianship of the little Theodosius was a tempting prize, and one which the dying words of his grandfather might possibly be held to confer upon the great Vandal minister. Honorius proposed to journey to the East, and assume this guardianship himself; but Stilicho drew out so formidable an account of the expenditure necessary for the journey of so majestic a being, that the august cipher, who was probably at heart afraid of the dangers of the way, abandoned his project. Stilicho's scheme, we are told, was to employ Alaric in suppressing the revolt of Constantine, while he himself went eastwards to settle the affairs of the young Emperor at Constantinople. Honorius gave his consent to both parts of the scheme, wrote the needed letters for Alaric and Theodosius, and then set off with Olympius for Ticinum. The minister, conscious that he was beset by some dangers, but ignorant of the treachery of Olympius, neither removed the mutinous soldiery from Ticinum, nor set forth to assume the command of the armies of the East, but, with strange irresolution, lingered on still at Ravenna. That irresolution proved his ruin.

Olympius fires his train. For Olympius, having now sole access to the ear of Honorius, and being surrounded by an army already sore and angry at the very mention of the name of  p752 Stilicho, had found exactly the opportunity for which he had long been watching. Although the one point in his enemy's life which was least open to hostile comment was his conduct in reference to his son, although Eucherius had never been promoted beyond the modest office of Tribune of the Notaries,7 Olympius persuaded both the Emperor and the army that Stilicho aimed at nothing less than placing his son on the Eastern throne, to which presumably his own barbarian parentage prevented him from aspiring. It is easy to imagine how the courtier, who, 'under an appearance of Christian piety veiled every kind of wickedness,' would enlarge to the Emperor on the horror of seeing the young pagan Eucherius on the throne of the holy Arcadius; — to the soldiers on the prospect of endless hardships under the stern discipline of Stilicho, when he should have made himself master of both realms.

Mutiny at Ticinum. The bonds of military obedience, hard to bind, are easy to unloose when Authority itself is foolish enough to invite to mutiny. The soldiers at Ticinum rose in fury, eager to lay murderous hands on all who were pointed out to them as friends of Stilicho. Their first victims were Limenius, the Praetorian Prefect of the Gauls, and Chariobaudes, the commander of the forces in the same provinces. But lately these two men had been, under the Emperor, supreme from the Northumbrian Wall to the Pillars of Hercules. Now, fugitives before the might of the usurper Constantine, they  p753 received the reward of their fidelity, death from the soldiers of their Emperor, in his presence and ostensibly at his bidding. The storm grew more furious; the Emperor cowered in his palace; the magistrates of the city took flight; the brutal soldiery rushed through the streets robbing and murdering at their will. The authors of the insurrection, terrified by their own success, resorted to the desperate remedy of parading Honorius through the town, dressed hastily in the short tunic of a private citizen without the military cloak (paludamentum) which marked his rank as a commander, and without the diadem of an Emperor. In answer to their abject supplications, order was at length restored, and the soldiers returned to their quarters; but not until Naemorius, the General of the Household Troops, with two other military officers, till Petronius, the Chief Minister of Finance, and Salvius, the Quaestor (who struggled to the feet of the Emperor and vainly pleaded there for mercy); nay, not till the head of the whole official hierarchy, Longinianus, Praetorian Prefect of Italy, had been slain.8 All these eight victims of the  p754 revolt belonged to the rank of Illustres, the highest class of Imperial functionaries. But besides these, a great and uncounted number of the private citizens of Ticinum fell in this day's massacre.

Ancient Ticinum and modern Pavia. At the present day, Pavia, the successor of Ticinum, though rich in Lombard relics, has no buildings to show recalling the days when it was a Roman municipium. The Ticino, hurrying past the little town to join the Po, is crossed by a covered bridge of the fifteenth century. If you happen to visit the place on a day of festa, you see the blue-tunicked lads of the Italian army streaming across this bridge and through the high street of the town. The river and the army are there still: all else how greatly changed from that fierce day of August, 408, when Honorius, pale with fear, clothed in his short tunic, was hurried up and down through the streets of Ticinum, imploring an end of that mutiny for which he had given the watchword! The Lombard churches, S. Michele and S. Teodoro, gray with their vast multitude of years, stand, it may be, where the murdered Prefects and Quaestor had then their palaces; and these merry, good-humoured soldier-lads, who cover the pavement with their nut‑shells and fill the air with their laughter, are the representatives of that fierce mob‑army, drunk with blood as with wine, which swept from end to end of the city shouting for vengeance on the friends of Stilicho.

Stilicho's loyalty still unchanged. The best defence of Stilicho's loyalty is to be found in his own conduct when he heard of the mutiny at Ticinum. The news found him at Bologna: perhaps he had escorted the Emperor so far on his westward journey. He called a council of war, composed of the  p755 generals of the barbarian auxiliaries. All felt themselves alike threatened by this murderous outbreak of bastard Roman patriotism. The first report stated that the Emperor himself was dead. 'Then,' said all, — and Stilicho approved the decision, — 'on behalf of the violated sacramentum, let us march and avenge his murder on the mutineers.' But when a more correct version of the events reached them Stilicho refused to avenge the massacre of his friends only, the Emperor being unharmed, and loudly declared that to lead barbarians to an attack on the Roman army was, in his opinion, neither righteous nor expedient.

To this resolution he steadfastly adhered, though the conviction forced itself upon his mind that Honorius was now incurably alienated from him. Then the barbarian generals, one by one, separated themselves from what they felt to be a doomed cause.

Sarus turns against him. Sarus, the Goth, the antagonist of Constantine, who had fought under Stilicho's orders, now turned against his old chief, made a night attack on his quarters, slaughtered his still faithful Hunnish guards, but reached the general's tent only to find that he had taken horse and ridden off with a few followers for Ravenna. Not for the hand of the ungrateful Sarus was reserved that reward which Olympius was yearning to pay for the head of his rival.

Flight to Ravenna. Stilicho, though a fugitive, seems still to be more anxious for the safety of the Empire than for his own. As he passes city after city, where the wives and children of the barbarian soldiers are kept as hostages for their fidelity, he adjures the magistrates not on any pretence to allow one of the barbarians to enter. He reaches Ravenna: shortly after his arrival come messengers  p756 bearing letters written by the Emperor, under the steady pressure of Olympius, commanding that Stilicho shall be arrested and kept in honourable confinement without bonds. Informed of the arrival of this mandate he took refuge by night in a Christian church. Arrest When day dawned the soldiers entered the building: on their solemn assurance, ratified by an oath, sworn in the presence of the Bishop, that the Emperor's orders extended not to his death but only to the placing him under guard, Stilicho surrendered himself. Once out of the sanctuary, and entirely in the power of the soldiers, he learned the arrival of a second letter from Honorius, to the effect that his crimes against the state were judged deserving of death. The barbarian troops, who yet surrounded him, his slaves, his friends, wished still to resist with the sword, but this he utterly forbade, and by threats and the old still-lingering terror of his brow, he compelled his defenders to desist. and death of Stilicho, 23 Aug., 408. Then, in somewhat of a martyr's spirit, and with a heart already broken by man's ingratitude, and weary of life, he offered his neck to the sword of the executioner, and in a moment 'that good gray head, which all men knew,' was rolling in the dust.

Zosimus' Epitaph on Stilicho. 'So died,' says Zosimus (V.34), 'the man who was more moderate than any others who bore rule in that time. And in order that those who are interested in the history of his end may know the date thereof exactly, it was in the consulship of Bassus and Philippus, the same year in which the Emperor Arcadius succumbed to destiny, the 10th day before the Kalends of September (23rd August, 408).'

Comparison to Wallenstein. The circumstances of Stilicho's death naturally recall  p757 to our minds 'The Death of Wallenstein.' The dull, suspicious Honorius is replaced by Ferdinand II, Olympius by the elder Piccolomini, Sarus by Butler, Alaric by Wrangel, Stilicho himself by the great Duke of Friedland. Only let not the parallel mislead us as to the merits of the two chief actors. Wallenstein was at length disloyal to Ferdinand; Stilicho was never untrue to Honorius.

Summing up of the evidence as to Stilicho's character. At the outset of his career, when recording the conflict of testimony concerning him (this very same Zosimus being then the Advocatus Diaboli) it seemed necessary to say that we must wait for the close of his life before pronouncing our verdict on his character. That he was a brave and hardy soldier and a skilful general is virtually confessed by all. That his right hand was free from bribes and unjust exactions, only his flatterers assert, and we need not believe. That he was intensely tenacious of power, that he imposed his will in all things on the poor puppet Honorius, is clear, and also that the necessities of the State amply justified him in doing so. The murder of Rufinus may or may not have been perpetrated with his connivance. The death of Mascezel, Gildo's brother must remain a mystery; but upon the whole it seems improbable that Stilicho was personally connected with it. The inveterate hatred which existed between him and each successive minister of Arcadius certainly hastened the downfall of the Empire, and it is difficult to believe that there might not have been a better understanding between them had he so desired. The accusations of secret confederacy with Alaric would seem mere calumnies, if it were not for the painful scene in the Senate and Lampridius' indignant ejaculation 'Non est ista  p758 pax sed pactio servitutis.' Without imputing actual disloyalty to Stilicho, we may perceive in him, ever after the terrible slaughter and doubtful combat of Pollentia, a disinclination to push Alaric to extremities, a feeling which seems to have been fully reciprocated by his great antagonist. Possibly some such involuntary tribute of respectful fear would have been mutually paid by Napoleon and Wellington had Waterloo been a drawn battle. Stilicho may also have remembered too faithfully that the East had given Alaric his first vantage-ground against Rome, and he may have been too ready to keep that barbaric weapon unblunted, to be used on occasion against Constantinople. Yet on a review of his whole life, when contemplating the circumstances of his death, pre‑eminently when observing the immediate change which his removal from the chessboard produced upon the whole fortunes of the game, with confidence we feel entitled to say, 'This man remained faithful to his Emperor, and was the great defence of Rome.'

Orosius' vehement invective. In order however to lay all the evidence fairly before the reader, it will be well to quote the following passage from Orosius, the most eloquent of the defamers of Stilicho. Observe how mildly and even with what approbation the reverend Spaniard speaks of the atrocious pronunciamento at Pavia.

'Meanwhile Count Stilicho, sprung from the stock of the unwarlike, greedy, perfidious, and crafty nation of the Vandals, thinking it but a small matter that he already wielded Imperial power under the Emperor, strove by fair or foul means to lift up into sovereign dignity his son Eucherius, who, according to common report, had been already from boyhood, and while in a  p759 private station, meditating the persecution of the Christians. Wherefore when Alaric, with the whole nation of the Goths at his back, respectfully and respectably prayed for a fair and honourable peace, and some certain dwelling-place, by denying him in public the opportunity whether of peace or of war, but cherishing his hopes by a secret league, he reserved him and his people for the scaring and scarifying of the State (ad terendam terrendamque rempublicam). Furthermore those other nations, unbearable in their numbers and strength, by which the provinces of Gaul and Spain are now oppressed, namely the Alans, the Sueves, the Vandals, together with the Burgundians, who obeyed the same simultaneous impulse, — all of these he gratuitously called to arms, removing their private fear of the Roman name.

'These nations, according to his design, were to hammer at the frontier of the Rhine and harass Gaul, the wretched man imagining that under such a pressure of surrounding difficulties he should be able to extort the Imperial dignity from his son-in‑law for his son, and that then he should succeed in repressing the barbarous nations as easily as he had aroused them. Therefore, when this drama of so many crimes was made clear to the Emperor Honorius and the Roman army, the indignation of the latter was most justly aroused, and Stilicho was slain, — the man who, in order that one lad might wear the purple, had been ready to spill the blood of the whole human race. Slain too was Eucherius, who, in order to ingratiate himself with the Pagans, had threatened to celebrate the commencement of his reign by the restoration of temples and the overthrow of churches. And with these men  p760 were also punished a few of the abettors of their criminal designs. Thus with very slight trouble, and by the punishment of only a few persons, the churches of Christ, with our religious Emperor, were both liberated and avenged.' (Orosius, Hist. VII.38.)

Punishment of Stilicho's family and friends. So far the religious pamphleteer. Let us turn from his invective to history, and trace the immediate consequences of the death of Stilicho. The fall of his family and friends followed his as a matter of course. Eucherius fled to Rome and took refuge in a church there. The sanctity of his asylum was for some time respected, but before many months had elapsed he was put to death. Thermantia was sent back from the Imperial palace to her mother Serena. A law was passed that all who had held any office during the time of Stilicho's ascendancy should forfeit the whole of their property to the State. Heraclian, the actual executioner of the sentence upon Stilicho, was made general of the forces in Libya Major in the room of Bathanarius, brother-in‑law of late minister, who now lost both office and life. Cruel tortures, inflicted by the command of Olympius, failed to elicit from any of Stilicho's party the least hint of his having conceived any treasonable designs.

Cowardly revenge of the legionaries on the foederati. It is plain, however, that justly or unjustly the name of the deceased minister was connected with the policy of conciliation towards the barbarians and employment of auxiliaries from among them. As soon as the death of Stilicho was announced, the purely Roman legionaries rose and took a base revenge for the affronts which they may have received at the hands of their Teutonic fellow-soldiers. In every city where the wives and children of these auxiliaries were dwelling the  p761 legionaries rushed in and murdered them. The inevitable result was, that the auxiliaries, a band of 30,000 men, inheriting the barbarian vigour, and adding to that whatever remained of Roman military skill, betook themselves to the camp of Alaric, and prayed him to lead them to the vengeance for which they hungered.

Alaric's unexpected moderation. But it is a characteristic of the strange period upon which we are now entering (408‑410) that no one of the chief personages seems willing to play the part marked out for him. Alaric, who had before crossed mountains and rivers in obedience to the prophetic voice, 'Penetrabis ad Urbem,' now, when the game is clearly in his hands, hesitates and hangs back. Honorius shows a degree of firmness in his refusal to treat with the barbarians, which, had it been justified by the slightest traces of military capacity or of intelligent adaptation of means to ends, and had his own person not been safe from attack behind the ditches of Ravenna, might have been almost heroic. And both alike, the fears of the brave and the courage of the coward, have one result, to make the final catastrophe more complete and more appalling.

Honorius's refusal to treat. Alaric sent messengers to the Emperor, saying that on receipt of a moderate sum he would conclude a treaty of peace with Rome, exchange hostages for mutual fidelity, and march back his whole host into Pannonia. Honorius refused these offers, yet made no preparation for war, neglected to avail himself of the services of Sarus, undoubtedly the greatest general left after the death of Stilicho, entrusted the command of the cavalry to Turpilio, of the infantry to Varanes, of the household troops to Vigilantius; men whose notorious incapacity made them the laughing-stock of every camp in Italy,  p762 and for himself (says Zosimus) 'placed all his reliance on the prayers of Olympius.' Not quite all his reliance, however, Laws against heretics and heathens. for he was at this time exceedingly busy as a lawgiver, placing on the statute-book edict after edict for the suppression of heathenism and every shade of heresy.

Cod. Theod. lib. XVI tit. v.40. Thus we find him decreeing in 407, 'We will persecute the Manicheans, Phrygians, and Priscillianists with deserved severity. Their goods shall be confiscated and handed over to their nearest relatives who are not tainted with the same heresy. They themselves shall not succeed to any property by whatever title acquired. They shall not buy nor sell nor give to any one, and everything in the nature of a will which they make shall be void.'

In 408 (addressed to Olympius, Master of the Offices) — lib. XVI tit. v.42. 'We forbid those who are enemies of the Catholic sect to serve as soldiers in our palace. We will have no connection of any kind with any man who differs from us in faith.' lib. XVI tit. v.43. 'All our former decrees against the Donatists, Manicheans, and Priscillianists, as well as against the heathens, are not only still to have the force of law, but to be obeyed to the utmost.' lib. XVI tit. x.19. 'The revenues belonging to the Pagan temples are to be taken from them, the images pulled down, the altars rooted up.' 'No feast or solemn observance of any kind is to take place on the sites of the [old] sacrilegious worship. The bishop is empowered to see to the execution of this decree.' lib. XVI tit. v.45. 'No one who dissents from the priest of the Catholic Church shall have leave to hold his meetings within any city or in any secret place in our dominions. If he attempts it, the place of meeting shall be confiscated and he himself driven into exile.'

 p763  Cod. Theod. lib. XVI tit. viii.19. 'A new form of superstition has sprung up under the name of Heaven-worship. If those who profess it have not within a year returned to the worship of God and the religion of Christ, let them understand that they will find themselves smitten by the laws against heretics.'

lib. XVI tit. v.47. In this same year, doubting apparently his own power to resist the pressure of his new minister (Jovius), he ordains that no edict which may be obtained from him in derogation of these anti-heretical laws shall have any force at all.

lib. XVI tit. v.51. In 410 — 'Let the houses of prayer be utterly removed,9 whither the superstitious heretics have furtively crept to celebrate their rites, and let all the enemies of the holy law know that they shall be punished with proscription and death if they shall any longer attempt, in the abominable rashness of their guilt, to meet together in public.'

Socrates, VII.29. About twenty years after this time, we find Nestorius, bishop of Constantinople, saying to the younger Theodosius, 'Join me in destroying the heretics, and I will join you in destroying the Persians'; and it is probable that these recurring edicts against heathens and heretics, ever increasing in severity, seemed to Honorius the easiest means of wringing forth the favour of the Almighty and adjuring Him to clear the Empire from the barbarians.

Case of the heathen Generidus. It is curious to read, side by side with these decrees,  p764 the story of Generidus as told us by Zosimus (V.46). He was a man of barbarian extraction; brave and honest, but still adhering to the religion of his forefathers. When the law was passed which forbade any one not a Christian to remain in the service of the Emperor, Generidus handed back his belt, the emblem of military office, and retired into private life. In a desperate crisis of his fortunes, the Emperor entreated him to return, and to take the command of the troops in Pannonia and Dalmatia. He reminded Honorius of the law which forbade a heathen like himself to serve the state, and was told that while that law must still remain in force, a special exemption should be made in his favour. 'Not so,' replied the soldier; 'I will not be a party to the insult thus put on all my brave heathen comrades. Restore them all to the rank which they have forfeited because they adhere to the religion of their forefathers, or else lay no command upon me.' The Emperor with shame consented, and Generidus, assuming the command, drilled his troops rigorously, served out their rations honestly, spent his own emoluments among them generously, and soon became a terror to the barbarians and a tower of strength to the harassed provincials.10 We do not hear of him, however, again  p765 in any of the great events of the war, and may be permitted to conjecture that Zosimus has coloured highly enough the virtues of his fellow heathen.

Religious element in the hostile combination against Stilicho. The mention of this religious legislation may seem like a departure from the main subject of the chapter, but it is not so. The religious element was probably the most important fact in the combination which brought Stilicho to his fall, and it has had the most powerful influence in blackening his memory after his death. The intrigues of Olympius and the passionate calumnies of Orosius are not pleasant specimens of the new type of Christian politician and littérateur which was then coming to the front. The former especially is a style of character of which the world has seen too much in the subsequent centuries, and which has often confirmed the truth of a saying of the founder of Christianity. Salt like this, which had utterly lost its savour, was in a certain sense worse than anything which had been seen on the dunghill of Pagan Imperial Rome, and was fit for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men.

The Author's Notes:

1 De Bello Getico, 419‑429.

2 The chief authority for the date is Prosper, 'Arcadio VI et Probo Coss [= 406] Vandali et Alani Gallias, trajecto Rheno, pridie Kal. Januarias [31 Dec.] ingressi.' Some authors, struck by the awkwardness of introducing such a notice under the last day of the year (since the irruption as an event would belong far more to the New Year than to the Old) understand the invasion to have taken place on the last day of 405. But it is doubtful whether this is allowable, though the two edicts of 18th and 20th April, 406, 'De Tironibus,' calling for a levée en masse against some invader, certainly incline us towards the earlier date. It might to some extent lessen the difficulty if there were any authority for the conjecture (mentioned by Clinton) that for 'Jan.' we should read 'Jun.' (= 31 May, 406). It seems in itself improbable that a great national migration such as this should take place in the depth of winter.

3 Britannia fertilis provincia tyrannorum (Jerome, Epist. ad Ctesiphontem).

4 Zosimus (VI.3) distinctly asserts that the Vandal irruption into Gaul was the cause of the insurrection of the soldiers in Britain. The 40th chapter of the 'Notitia Occidentis' discloses the names of ten Gaulish detachments serving in Britain: three cohorts of Nervii from the Forest of Ardennes, two of Lingones from Langres, the Frixagores (?) from Friesland, the Batavians from Holland, the Tungri from the banks of the Meuse, 'the fourth cohort of Gauls' (origin uncertain), and the Morini from Flanders.

5 I venture to take a slightly different view of these 'Honorians' to that which seems generally to have obtained currency on the authority of Gibbon (ch. xxx n. 99). He says that in order to cope with Didymus and Verenianus and their brothers, Constantine 'was compelled to negotiate with some troops of barbarian auxiliaries for the service of the Spanish war. . . . They were distinguished by the title of Honorians, a name which might have reminded them of their fidelity to their lawful sovereign. These Honoriani or Honoriaci consisted of two bands of Scots or Attacotti, two of Moors, two of Marcomanni, the Victores, the Ascarii and the Gallicani. (Notitia Imperii, sect. xxxviii, edit. Lab.) They were part of the sixty-five Auxilia Palatina, and are properly styled ἐν τῇ αὐλῇ τάξεις by Zosimus (VI.4). The nine bands of Honorians, which may be easily traced on the establishment of the Western Empire, could not exceed the number of 5000 men,' &c.

The passage in Orosius from which we derive our knowledge of the employment of the 'Honorians' in the Spanish campaign is as follows: 'Adversus hos Constantinus Constantem filium suum . . . cum Barbaris quibusdam, qui quondam in foedus recepti atque in militiam Allecti Honoriaci [Al. Honoriani] vocabantur, in Hispanias misit' (VII.40). I have no doubt that Gibbon is right in connecting this statement of Orosius with the entries in the Notitia as to Auxilia Palatina bearing the name of Honoriani, and the names of the different 'bands' seem to be correctly given, though two more might have been added (the 'Felices' senior and junior). But I think he is in error in supposing that these various 'Honorian' bands formed one division of the army or ever necessarily acted together. In the Notitia some of them appear in Gaul, some in Italy, some in Illyricum, some even 'per Orientem.' Just so in the early Empire two legions were called 'Augusta' and two 'Primigenia,' but there was no necessary bond of connexion between them. All that we can say is that one or more Auxilia Palatina which were stationed in Gaul, and which bore the epithet Honoriani, were put under the command of Constans, and being barbarians behaved (as Orosius goes on to complain) in a very barbarous manner. The passage quoted from Zosimus has, I conceive, nothing to do with Auxilia Palatina.

6 We know of this embargo only from the law repealing it which was passed after Stilicho's downfall. 'Hostis publicus Stilicho novum atque insolitum repererat, ut litora et portus crebris vallaret excubiis ne cuiquam ex Oriente ad hanc Imperii partem pateret accessus. Hujus iniquitate rei moti et ne rarior sit diversarum mercium commeatus, praecipimus hac sanctione ut litorum desistat ac portuum perniciosa custodia et eundi ac redeundi libera sit facultas' [11 Dec. 408]. Cod. Theod. VII.16.1. I owe this important reference to Dr. Güldenpenning.

7 He would, it seems, be thus enrolled in the third class of the official hierarchy, the Clarissimi, and would have a similar position to that of the clerks in the War Office with us. If the inscription previously quoted be authentic, the poet Claudian had received similar promotion.

8 Zosimus, V.32. It is not easy exactly to fit in the descriptions of these offices given by Zosimus with the Notitia. The two Praefecti Praetorio are clear. So is Salvius the Quaestor (Not. Occidentis, cap. x.). Petronius, 'who was over the treasury and had charge of the private property of the Emperor,' is most probably the 'Comes Sacrarum Largitionum,' though he might be only the 'Comes Rerum Privatarum.' Chariobaudes, 'general of the forces in the Gauls,' is probably 'Magister Equitum,' or 'Magister utriusque Militiae per Gallias.' Naemorius, ὁ τῶν ἐν τῇ αὐλῇ τάξεων μάγιστρος, is identified by Gibbon with the Magister Officiorum, but might possibly be the Magister Peditum in Praesenti. Vincentius, ὁ ὧν ἱππέων ἡγούμενος, would be the Magister Equitum in Praesenti; and the other Salvius, ὁ τῶν δομεστίκων τάγματος προεστώς, Comes Domesticorum Equitum (or Peditum).

9 Or 'Entirely abrogating that [previous] oracle [of ours: some previous edict], under cover of which superstitious heretics,' &c. (This is Gothofred's interpretation; but is not the version given in the text the more natural one? The words are 'Oraculo penitus remoto quo ad ritus suos haereticae superstitiones obrepserant.')

10 Tillemont thinks that this affair of Generidus may be connected with a law of Honorius, reforested to by the Council of Carthage, 'that no one should embrace the Christian religion except by his own free and voluntary choice.' 'Nothing,' says the good Abbé, naïvely, 'could be more just, and no one has ever claimed that a man should embrace Christianity in spite of himself. However, in the state in which things then were, such a law was equivalent to undoing all that had been done against the pagans and heretics, especially if at the same time the law excluding them from office, was repealed, as Zosimus assures us.' (Hist. des Empereurs, V.574‑5.)

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